Studio: The Collective
Director: Ascanio Malgarini, Christian Bisceglia
Writer: Christian Bisceglia
Producer: Manuela Cacciamani
Stars: Harriet MacMasters-Green, Sabrina Jolie Perez, Jarret Merz, Matt Patresi, Giuliano Montaldo
A single mother learns that the “Tooth Fairy” visiting her daughter may actually be connected to a sinister Italian legend.
It is a wonder that the Tooth Fairy is not exploited more often as the kick-start for a tale of terror. Here you have a stranger, a supernatural creature no less, entering children’s bedrooms undetected and then leaving just as mysteriously with a piece of the child’s body. With slumber undisturbed, who knows what else the Tooth Fairy could do without anyone knowing. But leave a few coins or a dollar bill as payment and no one cares to ask too many questions. Truly fodder for horror when deconstructed under a more menacing light.
The being that haunts Helena in this movie is not exactly the same Tooth Fairy of familiar childhood legend. Sophia is a single mother who moves her daughter Helena into an apartment in Italy that houses a curious wardrobe. Being an antique armoire from a crumbling Italian building in a horror movie, mother and daughter inherit a sinister provenance along with the furniture piece. Decades ago, Battista Greco punished his wife for attracting the attention of another man by ripping out her teeth and leaving her to die in the moveable closet. Reformed as a vengeful spirit, this evil Fairy wants her teeth returned. And Helena is the vessel she will possess to get what she wants.
“The Haunting of Helena” is an average ghost story that is heavy on atmosphere, but light on resonating chills. High production values serve up platefuls of style, except the entrees are reheated leftovers of tropes and scares culled from footprints of the haunt-loaded horrors that came before it.
The movie looks great. High contrast washes a bleak tone over suitably distinct Italian architecture from a bygone European era. The location goes a long way towards establishing pleasing visuals for the western hemisphere crowd. Although Italians probably find the setting as dull as Angelinos do films set in Hollywood.
Camera work is fluid. The setups are thoughtfully crafted. Budget digital FX are noticeable, but they are used sparingly and find a way to blend passably into the film’s color palette. Professionals are clearly on the other side of the lens and their work is solid.
The quality extends to the music side as well. A nice piano-centric score completes the unsettling vibe along with the occasional accompaniment of straining string instruments. The mood is effective, except the soundtrack is used so liberally that there is nearly never a moment of quiet. And that is how “The Haunting of Helena” coughs up redundant horror movie clichés by pushing all of its elements way too far.
The constant music is but one way that the film pours it on thick. Transition shots to move scenes from one location to the next are cut with rain dripping images of churchyard statues. They have no bearing on the plot, but they appear every ten or fifteen minutes as an unnecessary reminder of the dark and stormy setting.
As if to further nail the concept into the viewer’s head that “The Haunting of Helena” is a horror film, each beat change follows the introduction of yet another overly familiar genre staple. As the evil unfolds, an old man appears who cryptically warns the mother to “leave now,” without actually taking one minute to explain why. When more exposition is required to fill in the backstory, Sophia does the job via a collection of newspaper clippings. Ghost children lead the living to vital clues. The skeptic discovers too late that the tales were true. All of it is here. And all of it has been seen before.
Much of what is unoriginal about the story and its framing can be overlooked because the presentation is very well done, and the filmmakers take their movie seriously. Less forgivable are the unimpassioned performances that fail to carry the film to the finish line. It is a challenge to take the acting seriously when listening to Helena deliver lines such as, “I want my tooth. Go find it,” with a whiny monotone normally reserved for an income tax auditor.
However, “The Haunting of Helena” does one thing exceptionally well, and that is the delivery of its final few minutes. The script comes up with an idea so fiendishly delicious that it has an unfortunate side effect of shining a bright spotlight on the rest of the story’s mediocrity. The reason why is because the final concept is more engrossing than the preceding 90 minutes. Had there been a way for that element to take a larger role earlier in the film, “The Haunting of Helena” could have been deviously memorable.
Aside from its satisfying ending, “The Haunting of Helena” is a respectable effort that just does not possess enough of an identity to truly set it apart in the ghostly haunting sub-genre. Far from an outright disappointment, the film relies too much on convention and not enough on its own creativity.
NOTE: "The Haunting of Helena" was previously known by the title “Fairytale.”
Review Score: 60